I bought myself some new watercolours this weekend. Winsor and Newton artists range, a lovely enamelled steel box with thirty different half pans. It’s a larger version of the set i got when i was sixteen, which has accompanied me on many miles of walks and expeditions over the years. That set, the older and much loved one, has eighteen half pans and a few dents and chips. So, by my reckoning, my painting will be about 50% better as a result.
It does work like that doesn’t it? More kit = better performance? I would love to think so, because, if nothing else, i am an aspirational shopper. Winsor and Newton do three ranges of colours: student, intermediate and artist. I’ve always bought the artist paints on the basis that (a) i’m a snob or (b) i buy into the fact that they are better. Well, they’re certainly more expensive, which surely amounts to about the same thing?
To get good at anything, you need to practice, so you could argue that it’s worth practicing with cheap paints until you get good enough to make the most of the good ones. There is probably a truth in this: you see it when children learn to play guitar on a cheap imported, third hand model and then graduate up to a Martin when they are actually good. Although there is a truth to the opposite as well: that if you give people a good guitar, or use good paints, you find that you can play better from the start!
Many creative expressive arts have both technique and ‘feel’. The feel of my guitar is different from any other. I can play it with my eyes shut more easily. The same with paint really: sure, i can use any paints, but you do get a feel for how individual colours behave from different manufacturers. Yes, red is red, but they do move differently.
One of the joys of growing up is that you suddenly have time and money to lavish on your hobbies. Well, money anyway. Just witness the profusion of cyclists on £3,000 carbon fibre bikes, hauling their beer bellies up hills in luminous leggings. Proof positive that the right kit does not make you perform better, although it might make you feel better whilst you’re trying.
There is an emotionally satisfying state to having the right kit. It’s something we need to consider when people join an organisation, take part in a piece of training or just turn up to work. If you give people a clapped out old desk, a steam driven laptop and some dog eared motivational posters on the walls, they are going to feel decidedly second rate. They are unlikely to deliver an award winning performance.
So, the right kit won’t deliver excellence in it’s own right, but the wrong kit may hinder our ability to be excellent. Now there’s a conundrum.
I know that more paints, better brushes and a bigger tin box won’t make me a better painter. It might help me to get some different effects, but i doubt i could quantify the results. It may just make me feel good, more motivated, more energised to walk out into the cold wet outdoors to paint. And as motivation is a key part of success, maybe that’s enough. I guess only time will tell.